Durant's Heroics Help Thunder Escape Jazz
OKLAHOMA CITY - Kevin Durant scored 32 points and returned to MVP form on Friday night to lead the Thunder past the pesky Jazz, 99-94.
Utah came to Oklahoma City without three of its top seven scorers. Enes Kanter (13.9 ppg), Alec Burks (13.9 ppg) and rookie Rodney Hood (5.3 ppg) all missed the game with various injuries, yet a healthy Thunder team inexplicably couldn't take advantage for most of the night.
Utah seized temporary control early in the second quarter. Entering the period tied at 27-27, the Jazz dashed out on an 8-0 run in the first 1:20 of the quarter to take a 35-27 lead.
They maintained that stiff arm throughout the second and took a six-point lead into the break. Just before the half, Utah big man Trevor Booker hit one of the greatest shots in basketball history. The Jazz was inbounding in the frontcourt with just .2 seconds left on the shot clock, and the inbound pass went to Booker. With his back to the basket and no time to catch, turn and shoot, Booker volleyball-tapped the ball over his head and into the hoop.
If you didn't see it, Google it. It's worth it.
Oklahoma City cut the lead to two after the third but couldn't ever sniff the lead. Utah extended its advantage back out to 90-84 with 4:41 to play on a ridiculous turnaround by Gordon Hayward, but that's when the Thunder finally took over.
Durant hit a difficult runner and then two jumpers as OKC took off on an 8-0 run and grabbed a two-point lead. The Thunder ended the game on a 15-4 spurt and survived what would have been a disastrous loss. The key play came with 44 seconds left and OKC leading 94-93. Durant twisted through the paint to draw the defense, then found Dion Waiters on the wing for a dagger 3-pointer.
KD wasn't the only Thunder star filling it up on Friday. Russell Westbrook played more under control, scoring 25 points and dishing out 12 assists. Westbrook shot 9-17 and only committed three turnovers.
Waiters finished with 15 points on 7-14 shooting in 27 minutes. Reggie Jackson, OKC's former go-to bench threat, scored just five points in only 15 minutes.
Hayward's 27 points led the Jazz while Derrick Favors added 22 points and 11 rebounds. Trey Burke chipped in 20 points and five assists.
Both teams shot 7-21 from 3-point range, but Utah shot 13 more free throws than OKC. Utah also outrebounded the Thunder 44-38 and blocked 11 shots. Seven of those blocks came from Rudy Gobert, who grabbed seven boards to go along with his stellar rim protection.
Utah (13-24) beat the Thunder 98-81 back on Nov. 18. The Jazz followed that win with a nine-game losing streak.
The win brings the Thunder (18-19) back within one game of the .500 mark. Oklahoma City hasn't held a winning record at any point this season and it'll be tough to get there anytime soon. OKC is off until Thursday, Jan. 15 when they head to Houston to face Thunder legend James Harden and the Rockets, followed by a home date with the Warriors the very next night.
Late update: the Suns lost in San Antonio and fell to 22-17. OKC is back within three games of Phoenix for the No. 8 playoff spot.